Over the years, Hollywood has fed audiences a steady stream of a certain coming-of-age story: an apathetic man in his 20s finally grows up thanks to his mentors and his nagging (yet somehow charming!) girlfriend. Just when you think Hollywood had run out of wrinkles for this particular formula, along comes writer/voice actor and first-time director Seth MacFarlane and Ted. The addition of MacFarlane’s special brand of comedy succeeds in breathing new life into the otherwise monotonous formula, though it might also make your brain want a bath after having seen inside his crude, pop-culture-sadistic mind.
In 1985, an introvert, John (Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish on his teddy bear, Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) for companionship. Although John gets his wish and grows up alongside a walking, talking, perverse teddy bear, he’s still stuck in that stage of being an outsider, uncomfortable in his own skin. At 35, John’s social skills are completely lacking, and his ability to score a driven, down-to-earth girlfriend like Lori (Mila Kunis) is only explained by John being the best-looking guy in Boston. His idea of committing to his four-year relationship is buying a pair of earrings at a kiosk, and his drive for a promotion at a rent-a-car center is nonexistent. If there’s one thing consistent about John, it’s his commitment to his appalling, homophobic, sexist and sometimes racist best friend, Ted.
If anything, the pairing of an actual teddy bear that shares the same fears and worries alongside a human being provides a refreshing take on an old horse Hollywood had beaten to death long ago. John’s commitment level to his teddy bear is unmatched by any bromance seen on the big screen in recent years. In movies past, we’ve seen devoted bros who seem equal to each other in their immaturity, but one of them always seems to have the upper hand socially or domestically. John and Ted are on a level playing field. Both characters are outsiders, and no one has the upper hand, even if Ted acts as the voice of reason (albeit a perverse one).
MacFarlane’s brand of humor, especially when he’s already pushed the envelope with a talking dog in his hit show Family Guy, seems like home to Pete Griffin enthusiasts. The animated bear is the kind of bro’s bro that you would see in an Apatow film, complete with misogynistic overtures and pot-smoking humor. He indulges in all those impulses one usually—or at least should—learns to resist in transitioning from idle youth to responsible adult, whether it’s hanging out with hookers or getting caught “having sex” at work with a bimbo coworker. (A somewhat terrifying thought—Ted could probably be played by Seth Rogen in live-action form.)
Ted seems to get away with things that would be considered deplorable and revolting if done by a human, yet MacFarlane, with his easy sarcasm and self-aware wit, creates an unbelievably charming character in this two-foot stuffed bear. No one can really hold him accountable for the deplorable things that he does. When Ted’s racist, he makes no apologies because he’s racist across the board, and by his appearance it’s obvious he doesn’t represent one demographic. In fact, since it’s mentioned that his existence isn’t normal in the context of John’s world, he’s very much aware of his own irony, which pulls the audience in on the joke too. It’s what makes Ted so believable as a character.
Thanks again largely to MacFarlane, it feels plausible that Ted can do so much damage, yet still be a lovable character who is devastated about John’s heartbreak after a fed up Lori breaks things off. In many ways, Ted’s own dedication to John’s happiness, even if his own happiness comes before it, is something that every bro could want. Ted is a character that you’re rooting for when he decides to push John across that great divide of maturity.
MacFarlane and Wahlberg have an easy chemistry, making the scenes feel like anything but the same ol’ dead horse and pony show. As director, MacFarlane makes sure there’s more to the comedy of Ted than his signature raunchiness. The character of Lori is fun and gives John’s story a simple undertone of depth, and to Kunis’ credit, turns the typical, one-dimensional nagging girlfriend on its head. (She actually resembles a normal, caring and driven modern woman with her own needs.) While Ted is a bit hobbled by its predictable ending, seeing Wahlberg and MacFarlane’s take on the traditional bromantic comedy is a satisfying payoff.
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Writer: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild (screenplay); Seth MacFarlane (story)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale
Release Date: June 29, 2012